I came across this book sometime in the middle of my dissertation—knee-deep in that place where I couldn’t turn back, but I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It wasn’t a gift. I found it referenced in some other respected work. It’s a short read, but a doozy—165 pages of punch-me-in-the-gut life-changing awesomeness. Once I knew it, I couldn’t un-know it.
It’s “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles,” written by Steven Pressfield.
I’ve purchased it several times because I keep giving copies away when I think it may change someone’s life. And I pick it up and refer to it often. One of my favorite passages is “The Unlived Life:”
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.
‘One night I was layin’ down,
I heard Papa talkin’ to Mama.
I heard Papa say, to let that boy boogie-woogie.
’Cause it’s in him and it’s got to come out.’
— John Lee Hooker, “Boogie Chillen”
Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to denote a holy spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling.”
Resistance: little has been as helpful to me, as a writer, as putting a name to that invisible force—the dragon I must slay each day by showing up and doing the work. Sounds simple, but of course it rarely is. Still, we answer to our Genius—our inner calling—by battling Resistance each day.
“A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center. It is our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds our being in potential, our star’s beacon and Polaris.
Every sun casts a shadow, and a genius’s shadow is Resistance. As powerful as is our soul’s call to realization, so potent are the forces of Resistance arrayed against it. Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mowed down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: we don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from east coast to west and back again thirteen times and I never knew it existed. I looked everywhere for the enemy and failed to see it right in front of my face.”
Here’s the thing: Resistance is slippery. It’s by nature a trickster. The second we think we have it beat is when it’s at its most potent and effective. Sometimes it takes a monster wake-up call to rattle us into awareness and back on track.
“Have you heard this story: woman learns she has cancer, six months to live. Within days she quits her job, resumes the dream of writing Tex-Mex songs she gave up to raise a family (or starts studying classical Greek, or moves to the inner city and devotes herself to tending babies with AIDS). Woman’s friends think she’s crazy; she herself has never before been happier. There’s a post-script. Woman’s cancer goes into remission.
Is that what it takes? Do we have to stare death in the face to make us stand up and confront Resistance? Does Resistance have to cripple and disfigure our lives before we wake up to its existence? How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to? Resistance defeats us. If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the dictionary would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse along with junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment businesses, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct. As would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.”
But it’s worse. How many of us are codependent, distracted and just half-assing, going through the motions? So how, we ask, do we know what our inner genius is calling us to do?
“Look in your own heart.
Unless I’m crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I’m crazy, you’re no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow.
You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you.
You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred Kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the academy of fine arts and later to the school of architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it an overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”
Boom. And if that weren’t enough, here’s my first favorite passage, called “The Artist’s Life.”
“Are you a born writer? Were you put on the earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end, the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path to God.”
No more excuses. We get to stop hiding, because the truth is it’s actually not about us.
Dropkick to the gut, right?
As I write this, I’m realizing that perhaps I’ve been the one calling it in. I’m in the final stages of a book that is incredibly important to me—and may be important to the world. There have been some serious ups and downs on this journey. I’ve never wanted to quit, but I have questioned my own sanity multiple times. And at this stage of the game, I need to remember that I’m here to serve and the only way to serve is to do the work.
The universe has a funny way of sending messages through people and we never quite know how we’re serving the greater good. I don’t have a how-to list for how we go forth on our path of true calling. But if words like this inspire a body shock that feels like lightning, that’s a good place to start looking.
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
Author: Erin McMorrow, PhD
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Drew Coffman/Flickr